Tuesday, April 08, 2014

More poor little rich boys

While I'm on the subject of how heartbreaking it is to be a billionaire and have no possible way of letting the world know how great you are, Charles Murray, the conservative pundit and famous face of "scientific" racism (he wrote The Bell Curve, with Richard Herrnstein) has a book to plug at the moment, and so is appearing in various places making sonorous and yet somehow still deeply stupid pronouncements about how to live life well.

Biology blogger PZ Myers weighs in on Murray's Salon outing here. (Summary: PZ has an unfavorable opinion of Murray.) I was so put out by Murray's Wall Street Journal piece that I had totally failed to notice the Salon one even existed.

Said Wall Street Journal article by Charles Murray is entitled Advice for a Happy Life, and consists of soppy platitudes that are unlikely to supercharge the Youth of Today.  Example:
Learn How to Recognize Your Soul Mate
Ready for some clichés about marriage? Here they come. Because they're true.
Marry someone with similar tastes and preferences. Which tastes and preferences? The ones that will affect life almost every day.
It is OK if you like the ballet and your spouse doesn't. Reasonable people can accommodate each other on such differences. But if you dislike each other's friends, or don't get each other's senses of humor or—especially—if you have different ethical impulses, break it off and find someone else.
Groundbreaking sociological reasoning, I think you'll agree. But what caused my incandescent rage was a little item, number four, called "Eventually stop fretting about fame and fortune". Part of it is about David Geffen, described as a billionaire music and film producer:
[H]e said, "Show me someone who thinks that money buys happiness, and I'll show you someone who has never had a lot of money." The remark was accompanied by an ineffably sad smile on Mr. Geffen's face, which said that he had been there, done that and knew what he was talking about. The whole vignette struck me in a way that "money can't buy happiness" never had, and my visceral reaction was reinforced by one especially memorable shot during the profile, taken down the length of Mr. Geffen's private jet, along the rows of empty leather seats and sofas, to where he sat all alone in the rear.
Oh dear god, my heart bleeds for Mr. Geffen. How incredibly heartrending to imagine the billionaire all alone in his leather-seated, sofa-endowedvprivate jet with his ineffably sad smile. 

Trying to give Murray the benefit of the doubt - I don't know why I should, but I did - Cliche #4 in the article is in some small way trying to tell young people that money doesn't get you everything, which is true. But as the song goes on to say, "What it don't get, I can't use."

And anyway, it doesn't excuse David Geffen himself and his astoundingly self-serving comment. Money itself may not buy happiness, but it's a lot easier to find happiness if you have the money to ignore the little unhappiness-generating things like creditors, lack of housing, food insecurity.

Unless Geffen is working hard at having no friends to talk to on his private jet, I'm going to put his remark down to the reflexive self-preservation instinct of the filthy rich: "Don't envy me! This is hard work! I get no pleasure out of it at all, I swear! Don't take it away from me or all this angst will fall on your gentle and unpracticed shoulders!"

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